Saturday, June 7, 2008

Milestones, not millstones

The other day, in a clinic swarming with ill folk, Sonny underwent his first rite of passage.

He may only be six weeks going on seven, but he's already too old for certain things: A nurse told us that he no longer gets automatic priority in the queue - a privilege reserved for newborns, defined as babies still in their first month. So that quintessentially modern delight, getting in line, is now Sonny's to savour - though it is mostly his parents who will be experiencing it vicariously for now.

But there you go, son. You'll find that, sometimes, existence will seem to amount to little but a series of such gateposts: Not so much hurdles as markers to signify that you've advanced a tad further along the way of life.

Strictly chronologically, for instance, there are the birthdays that will be celebrated. There'll be school to conquer, where pivotal examinations await. There will be social encounters of various sorts that you must live through (some happy, others terrifying). And there'll be times like when you become too tall to get in for free at the train turnstile.

A wee warning, though: You don't want to become locked into seeing life as a series of steps to climb. That's neat but too linear, whereas it's the stuff that doesn't fit into the schematic that may provide the most memorable and enriching harvests. The unlikely person you meet, one ordinary morning, who becomes a lifelong friend. The silly joke you hear that somehow sticks in your head. The preposterous pattern of clouds, framed in the sky, that takes your breath away and brings magic into the everyday.

Rites of passage are important as reminders; milestones tell us that time flies, youth is fleeting and that we are being borne on a current that sweeps on inexorably. They are like the street map that's always useful when trying to navigate a city.

But as a friend once said: We need to get ourselves lost in any city, and prowl its alleyways and souks, before you really appreciate it.